Saturday, December 31, 2005

Two More Bite the Dust

In two weeks, most Allegheny County residents are going to forget that these offices ever existed. Many of them probably don't even know that they ever existed anyway.

I refer, of course to the Jury Commissioners of Allegheny County, which (along with Coroner, Prothonotary, and a few other row offices) was voted out of existence in a ballot measure this past year. The outgoing Jury Commissioners seem a little sad about it, based on an article in this morning's Trib. Sort of:

A jury selection system that had its roots in Colonial times faded into Allegheny County history on Friday, and longtime county Jury Commissioner Jean A. Milko bowed out with the change, saying she had "a heavy heart" but no regrets.

"It's the end of an era," said Milko, a jury commissioner since 1973.

Yeah, no more will you be able to spend long hours at your desk regaling visitors with tales of the time you met George Washington, then an up-and-coming surveyor in the employ of the Commonwealth of Virginia. But you predicted that he would go far, and by gum you were right! Just like you were right about the necessity of keeping your job:

"My office had to go. It was a foregone conclusion. It served its purpose," she said. "We accomplished a lot. We brought the office into the 21st century."
She wasn't done accomplishing a lot, so she thought, or she would not have run for re-election on the same ballot that eliminated her office. All the same, she is not going to go quietly into that good night:

Milko, 71, of Edgewood, said she will devote more time to her work as chair of the county Democratic Committee.

"This is a very crucial election year (2006)," she said. "There's an awful lot of work to be done in the political arena."

Milko said she isn't sure what the future holds as far as another paying job, but she doesn't plan to retire. "I'm going to die with my boots on," she said.

Hmmm, that sounds stinky. When you die, the last memory of you that people will have is that your feet smell of sweat and toe jam. I'd rather die while soaking my feet in cologne. Then people will say, "He smells pretty decent for a dead guy". It might be a nice way of distinguishing between Democrats and Republicans. And the highest-ranking Democrats will be the ones with the stinkiest feet.

On the other side, outgoing commissioner Allan Kirschman didn't even bother to run for reelection, nor did the Republican Party bother to run a replacement candidate. They knew what was going to happen. Remember that the next time some leftist calls himself "a proud member of the reality based community".

Kirschman, who served two four-year terms as a jury commissioner, was cleaning out his office yesterday morning. Kirschman, 60, a Bethel Park Republican, said he will retire.

Before he was elected, Kirschman had been a jury commission employee for 15 years. His last day on the job was bittersweet, Kirschman said. He will miss working with his colleagues in county government, but won't miss calls from people who are upset about learning they have been chosen for jury duty, he said.

"You'd be surprised how many people don't want to serve on jury," Kirschman said.

That reminds me of what it was like when I left my job in retail after ten years. I was going to miss the people I worked with, but the customers were a bunch of jerks and arseholes. Well, the ones you remember, that is. They subscribed to the Burger King "have it your way" philosophy of customer service. Keep that up, and you're going to have dolts charging through the front door demanding everything for free.

Good luck in retirement, fella. See what you can do to encourage your elderly colleague to choose the same path.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Big Old Kittycat, Ms. Frigid, and The Big Box Full o' Fur and Trees

I was so looking forward to seeing King Kong this week...but ended up going to The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe instead. Family insistence, you see. I will yet have my day in the sun on Skull Island. Perhaps later in the week. For now, here's the Narnia review.

A few months ago, James Lileks said of TLTWTW that "from the trailers it looks like The Lemony Snicket Kids Meet Orcs and Cruela DeVil in Switzerland, Plus a Lion". And so it does. That's the magic of fantasy on film -- everything reminds you of something else that you've seen before, but in a different setting. Or perhaps a familiar setting. Care to accompany me on the ride?

The movie starts off as an ostensible homage to Bedknobs & Broomsticks, with Germans attacking England during the Second World War, and a group of siblings taking the train to a safe haven where they are greeted by a cranky woman who has no interest in the kids whatsoever. The train that takes them there is the Hogwarts Express. At least that's what I think it was. Didn't you?

The kids amuse themselves inside of stately Wayne Manor, where they discover that kindly old Professor Bilbo Baggins possesses a wardrobe that is full of fur coats and has a secret back door exit that dumps you in the forest where Kris Kringle met the Winter Warlock. The youngest of the kids, Lucy, goes first and has tea with a relative of Philoctetes. On her second visit, brother Edmund follows her. Edmund gets a nice cuddle from the Borg Queen Galadriel, who magically gave him a hot drink and some candy before kicking him out of her magic sleigh. This rather took me by surprise, because up to that point it looked like she was getting ready to breastfeed him. He seemed to be looking forward to it, but the movie had a PG rating to uphold, so we had to move on at that point. Besides, her Oompa Loompa chauffeur might have gotten jealous.

Edmund, seduced with the promise of the Borg Queen's mother's milk, returned along with Lucy and the older two, Peter and Susan. At first opportunity, Edmund ditches the others in order to run out in pursuit of his new sweetie. This may not have been such a bad move, considering that Peter, Susan and Lucy were in an underground latrine eating food that had been handled by rodents. Soon we meet up with the saber tooth tigers from Ice Age, here portraying a pack of wolves who act as a sort of Gestapo for Galadriel. The good guys get away by following in the footsteps of Frodo Baggins and the Fellowship through the frozen wastelands of Middle Earth. During their sojourn, they meet up with Santa Claus, who complains about the Borg Queen's gimmick infringement (he had a sleigh first!) and gives the kids a small arsenal to use in battle, making him officially the coolest Santa in the history of motion pictures. I want a MOAB and a daisy cutter next Christmas.

Peter uses his new sword in a most unorthodox way to rescue his sisters and their friends, the rodents, from the Gestapo wolfpack. By this time, spring had set in and our heroes soon found an army consisting mostly of horny guys and a bunch of horses' asses -- literally!

The kids soon enjoyed the privilege of meeting the leader of the good guys, none other than Qui-Gon Jinn, here reincarnated as a lion. This guy has the worst luck with his apprentices. First he prematurely dumps Obi-Wan Kenobi in order to take on Anakin Skywalker as his pupil, then gets killed before he can even get around to demonstrating light saber technique to the kid, who grows up to become Darth Vader. Next he decides to join the dark side and trains Bruce Wayne, who just wants to be a good guy, and the two of them end up burning down each other's house. As king of Narnia, Qui-Gon foolishly steps forward and offers to train Peter. Since the kids had never seen either of those other two movies, they had no idea what a bad idea it was to accept. So naturally Qui-Gon dies, even though he's a big powerful lion who can eat the flesh off of any opponent.

Or does he really die? On the eve of the big battle, Galadriel visits Qui-Gon in his private tent. We don't know exactly what happens inside, probably because of that pesky PG rating again. Maybe he was thirsty for some milk, if you know what I mean. The two opposing parties made some kind of pact that involved Qui-Gon going over to her place. Sounds like he got the better of the deal, if getting shaved bald and having a blade plunged into your heart works to your advantage. Some women are like that.

And it always happens at the worst time, like when your friends are staging a reenactment of the battle of Helms Deep using fourth graders and farm animals. It doesn't help either when Borg Queen Galadriel is the toughest thing on the field. I must confess that I was getting thirsty for cold milk by this point in the film. There's a certain attractive quality about powerful women, no matter how creepy and icy they are. Plus, it behooves one to be on her good side when she is such an effective killing machine.

Dead old Qui-Gon, meanwhile, has spent the night serving as a mattress for Susan and Lucy, who witnessed his execution and have been in mourning ever since. As soon as they turn their backs, his corpse disappears. As soon as they turn around to see what just happened, Qui-Gon jumps up from behind Stonehenge and yells "Surprise!" He even has a nice toupee to make him look dashing until his hair can grow back.

At this point, we learn a dark and terrible secret about the risen lion: His halitosis is so stinky and awful that it can make statues come to life and run away. Qui-Gon recruits the stunned former hunks of stone into his anti-Galadriel army and quickly makes his way over to Helms Deep.

The battle is going badly; Peter's horse got shot out from under him, and Edmund tried to take the Borg Queen one-on-one. Just in the nick of time, Qui-Gon "The Lion" Jinn leaps across the field and directly on top of Galadriel. The action takes place off-screen; we can surmise that Qui-Gon certainly ate her face, possibly finished off the milk, and maybe even a few other things that I would rather not mention. One thing is certain: the stunned expressions on four young faces tell us that, in that one brief moment, no small degree of innocence had been lost.

Qui-Gon's violence certainly inspired one of the girls. Susan finally got around to playing with the fun toys that she got from Santa Claus and shot an arrow that punctured the Oompa Loompa's heart. Imagine the scene that would have unfolded if the Narnia kids had visited Willie Wonka's chocolate factory. There would have been a mass funeral for all of the Oompa Loompas killed during the resulting slaughter.


Speaking of Willie Wonka, there is a scene where one of the boys (Edmund?) reaches down and rips a handful of grass from the ground. I swear to you, I thought for sure that he was going to eat it like the grass that grows in Wonka's factory. Darn it all, he didn't!

Having won the day with the lion's help, the kids are crowned kings and queens, and manage to reach adulthood before rediscovering the back door to the fur closet and returning home. Interesting: Peter looked like Kurt Russell thirty years ago, and adult Peter looked like Kurt Russell twenty years ago. If they ever do a movie where he's a middle aged man, they could actually get Kurt Russell to play him.

Sarcasm aside (finally), what did I think of the movie? I liked it! I was worried about getting burned out on all of the Tolkien, Harry Potter, etc. type movies that have been flooding the market in recent years, but this was fresh because it was fun. Go see it, and keep your sense of humor about you.

Say, have you noticed that I keep making references to movies based on works by J. R. R. Tolkien? You'd think that he and Narnia author C. S. Lewis were friends or something, wouldn't you?

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Pull Up Your Pants, Woman!

The Pittsburgh Moist-Towelette has a fashion Q&A feature that I have never seen before, written by a Mr. LaMont Jones. Normally I wouldn't even contemplate reading about fashion in the newspaper, but as someone who is always looking for new sources of amusement, I took a look. Mr. Jones did not disappoint.

The Christmas Day question comes from some skank in Kansas who is a borderline exhibitionist:

I think it's very, very, very, sexy for me to wear low-rise jeans and then for me to pull my thong up very high on my waist so that the sides of the thong show above my pants.
I agree. Or I might, if you had provided us with some photographic evidence. Then I might have been able to say for certain that you look "very, very, very, sexy" with your pants pulled down and the visibly self-imposed wedgie above them. Or you might rate as only "very, very, sexy" or just "very sexy". It's all a matter of perspective. In fact, I might take one look at you and decide that you don't deserve to be rated as "sexy" at all, but rather as "someone who needs to learn how to wipe when she's done". But I can't unless you send a photograph!

So how do the people she meets when she walks down the street rate her?

I really get a reaction out of people at the grocery store and when I go to pick up my dog at the dog day-care place, and at church.
Well, of course you get a reaction, but they aren't necessarily positive ones -- whoa, what was that last one? "At church"? I've seen a lot of women "dressing down" when they go to church, but I have yet to see one with her thong yanked over her belt. On purpose, anyway.

That's pretty bad, but I'm even more disturbed that she takes some kind of glee in being all sexy when she goes to some "dog day-care place". I've heard of women like this. That's just sick, sick, sick!

In another setting, it's also a potential means of entrapment:

But my boss has told me that even though Friday is casual Friday, it's inappropriate for me to wear my thong like that. Is this workplace discrimination and harassment?
Well, let's see. By dressing in this manner, you are creating an uncomfortable work environment for your male colleagues. If you are a sexy as you say you are, you must be making it more difficult for them to be productive on the job. You are a negative influence, and a very bad girl. You should be punished. Unfortunately for you, you have made it easier to get your butt whipped by having your pants halfway off your backside already.

Then, her cry for help:

I don't want to get in trouble at work or suffer a professional failure just because I am so smokin' hot, but I also like to express myself through fashion. What could I do?
Oh, I dunno. Pull up your pants, maybe? Have your underwear surgically removed from your crack?

Why do you insist on calling yourself "very, very, very, sexy" and "smokin' hot" when you don't give any eyewitness testimony for these observations? Has anyone else actually described you this way, or are you a narcissist?

LaMont's response is one long smackdown! on this skank's overexposed behind:

Ooooo-kay. Alrighty then. First, allow me to express my surprise that the trend actually made it to your corner of Kansas. Do the boys there sag their pants, too?
And allow me to read into this the insinuation that she perhaps bears more than a passing resemblance to a boy.

And then he makes a more serious point:

Sorry to rain on your smokin' hot panty parade, but your boss did the right thing. Fridays in corporate America -- not to mention church -- are never that casual. And I don't see discrimination here. Deliberately showing your unmentionables in the workplace is inappropriate, unless you work with a pole on a platform. If showing your thong outside your pants offends any of your co-workers, then they could be the real victims of sexual harassment -- not you.
Or, as I would have put it, "You dumb bitch! You should have been a stripper. Or maybe not, if you're so damn ugly that guys in your office complain about having to look at your sorry ass!"

He concludes:

What could you do? Continue to express yourself through fashion, but temper it with respect for others and yourself. Remember, there are all kinds of attention -- think hard about what kind you want to attract.
One time on The Beverly Hillbillies, Granny declared that, according to the "code of the hills", Jethro had to marry a burlesque dancer because he had seen her in her underwear. The skanky letter-writer might just want to attract a mate. Or, since she shows her thong wherever she goes, she may be expressing a desire to hook up with any and every man who sees her.

"Think hard", indeed. LaMont Jones nails this one and thus becomes one of my new favorite feature writers in the local media.

Dropping a Line

There's nothing like surfing my favorite blogs and finding a post by one of my favorite bloggers who says exactly what has been on my mind for a while. That's why I don't post as often as I might like; I don't like the whole "echo chamber" feel of a lot of blogs that are in agreement with one another. Why bother reiterating what someone else has already said, and said better than anyone else (especially me) can say it?

There is just such a post up at Mitch's Shot In the Dark site, but I am going to throw in my two cents anyway. Basically, Mitch is opposed to a movement that seeks to turn cable television into an "a la carte" style service. Currently, cable systems consist of a pre-set package of channels that the viewer can turn on and off as he pleases. Some people don't like this. Someone I know used to stay up late calling her cable company to complain about Cartoon Network running 24 hours a day. Why, she asked, do you show cartoons in the middle of the night? No one watches cartoons that late. Why should I pay for this?

Silly. First, there are people who can and do watch anything at whatever time it is on, including cartoons, and second, if the cable provider could manage to make Cartoon Network go away between 11 PM and 6 AM, it wouldn't make your cable bills go down. Some people just don't get the idea of a package deal. Pick and choose would make it more expensive. I'd rather get fifty channels that I never watch than have to do everything on a pay-per-view basis and run up a high tab if I (or my family members) watch too much TV.

On the other hand, that could end up teaching us a valuable lesson.

For about eight years now, I have had Digital Cable on my TV. Hundreds of channels! More premium and pay-per-view selections than ever before! And recently, an "On Demand" menu of programs (some free, some PPV) that allows me to watch what I want when I want, or however the slogan goes. It's lovely...if you actually watch a lot of television. Problem is, I don't. And neither does my family. The kids would rather pop in a tape or DVD than have to worry about having me find something for them to watch on cable. Why should I bother paying for a cable package that I rarely watch? It's a waste of money.

So I downgraded from digital cable with hundreds of channels to basic cable, which has less than 25. And I feel so much better, and I'm sorry that I didn't make this decision earlier. Someday, if I feel more "tuned in" and I don't mind paying for the excess of programming, I might upgrade back to digital. I can take it or leave it. As nice as it would be, I don't want the government to force cable providers to do something that's going to make cable television more expensive.

I gave up my favorite programming by choice. Lucky for me that Battlestar Galactica is available on DVD. But everything else? I won't miss it.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Poor Poor Pitiful Saddam

So now Saddam claims that his American captors have been beating and torturing him.

So what if we did?

Bastard should be thankful that we didn't turn him over to the families of his victims. Their punishments would undoubtedly be more...suitable. And he wouldn't live to complain about it.

Valise Go BOOM!

Good heavens. As of this morning, I am the number one Google search result for EXPLODING BRIEFCASE.

I guess it's better than Viking Sex Cruise.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Need a Lube Job Coming Up

Things are really looking up in the neighborhood near my office. Not only is there a new burger joint (see previous post), but Quaker Steak & Lube is coming to town. This is big. Really big. For years, QS&L was the place to go for wings connoisseurs in western Pennsylvania and northeastern Ohio. There was only one location, in Sharon, PA, and the college kids made pilgrimages from all around to eat wings and drink beer.

Sadly, I never made it out that way. Perhaps I was a little too offended by the name, which reeks of pacifism and pornography, so I stayed in Pittsburgh and patronized a national owl-themed chain. Good, clean fun.

A few years ago, QS&L started to branch out, opening new stores from Erie down to suburban Pittsburgh. I still never went. Marriage and fatherhood forced me to more or less cut the whole "wings and beer" thing from my diet. Now that Quaker Steak & Lube is going to be right down the street, I plan on losing my green bucket virginity as soon as the place opens.

Yes, this is very very good.

But The Food Was Worth The Wait

An hour ago, I expected to be sitting down in just a few minutes to write a glowing review of a burger joint that recently opened just a couple of blocks from my office. After all, I was the only customer in the shop when I walked through the door. Unfortunately, things didn't go so smoothly. After placing my take out order, I sat down to wait patiently while waiting the promised 7-8 minutes for my Bacon Cheeseburger with Everything and a side of fries. This place has free peanuts all over the place, so you have something to munch on while you wait. Everything is cooked while you wait, which means that there aren't pre-cooked burgers sitting around waiting for someone to order them, which is what most fast food restaurants seem to do. As a result, you need to hang on for a few minutes. So I did. I ate peanuts for about five minutes and then listened more intently for my number.

After nearly ONE WHOLE FRIGGING HALF HOUR of watching everyone who came in after me get their burgers, I went up to the counter and asked how long the food would take. I figured that a burger with "everything" might take a little longer than one that just has ketchup. "That went out a long time ago", came the reply. They never called my number. I heard every number up to the fifteenth one after mine, but I never heard the one on my receipt. Besides, the food was gone, meaning that some S.O.B. took my meal!

The restaurant guys were nice enough to do a rush job and handed me a
Bacon Cheeseburger with Everything and an extra big helping of fries. That was nice. I couldn't really blame them for someone else grabbing my bag of food. I am a little unhappy that they didn't call my number, but they made up for it.

The food went down well. I heartily recommend it. But if you go, keep an eye on the counter. The next bag of burgers and fries that goes out the door may be yours.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Let's Run It Up The Skyscraper and See If Anyone Salutes It

The powers that be in the City of Pittsburgh, County of Allegheny and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania are getting behind a newly unveiled plan to build a skyscraper in downtown Pittsburgh. Oh joy. Fewer and fewer people are working downtown. Businesses are moving out, and no one wants to move in. Why not do something about the available space before opening up a new project? Half of this new building will be occupied by lawyers, and the landlord, PNC Bank, is supposed to create 1,000 new jobs for people who will work in much of the remaining space.

Maybe PNC will hire back some of the people whom they have been laying off as a cost-cutting measure. A well-placed "Whoops!" would be in order.

You gotta love another unholy union of government and business.

Tea-d Off

Yesterday was the Christmas Party at work. The special of the day was tea. Lots and lots of tea. I passed over the fruity and raunchy flavored teas in favor of something a little more hardcore than ordinary tea: Yorkshire Hard Water Tea.

It was nice. I don't normally drink hot beverages (especially not coffee), but this tea was goooooood. So I quickly went back for seconds after finishing my first cup. And another after the second. By quitting time, I must have consumed seven cups of the brew. I wanted to stick around and drink tea for a few more hours, but they kicked me out, the rascals.

Good thing the bosses didn't treat us to a beer party, or they wouldn't have been able to kick me out.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Living In Style

Normally I don't blog things like this, but the Trib's Style section has an article about a penthouse residence high atop Mount Washington that just begs to be mocked. It sounds attractive:

The whole-floor penthouse, on the 25th floor, has 360 degrees of windows. The view of the Golden Triangle from the living room is unparalleled.
The current owner is trying to sell it for two-and-a-half million bucks. Good luck with that. I can't imagine anyone seriously wanting to pay more than $50,000 for anything within city limits. Especially considering the hazards of such a dwelling, as described by the pretty young woman who lives there:

"It's really neat because you can see some of the helicopters fly by. I think the view is even prettier in the winter."
Well, you had better get the place sold ASAP because one of these days a pervy chopper pilot trying to get a sneak peek into your bedroom is going to get a little over-excited, lose control of his vehicle, and the last view that you will ever have out that window (or anywhere else) will be of a sexually aroused helicopter pilot attempting an emergency landing in your living room.

Unless, of course, the place is equipped with cannons or flak guns. I would insist on it before moving in.

Not that I would want to live in such a place. You've got to be something of an exhibitionist to give the world such a wide open view of your interiors. Says one broker who deals in luxury condos:

"With condo living, it's the same living whether you're in the penthouse or a one-bedroom,"
I've heard of Penthouse, but not One-Bedroom. Sounds like one of those magazines that were hidden on the top shelf of the magazine section of the drug store where I bought my comic books as a boy.

Not only is sex involved in penthouse living, but also drugs:

A private elevator takes visitors to the 25th floor, which is billed as "the highest residence in Pittsburgh."
Every rock star of the 1970s would have wanted to live there. Tell me that this wasn't made for Led Zeppelin:

No taking out of trash is required. Simply place the trash in the trash chute, and it disappears forever. Five covered parking spaces are included with the penthouse.
More than likely the trash gets deposited directly into the Monongahela River and sails clear out to the Gulf of Mexico, where Jimmy Page's used syringes end up polluting some beach in the Yucatan.

The current residents live something of a rock star style, as the man of the house has the sexual appetite of Robert Plant in his prime:

"My fiance is an animal nut,"
explains the pretty young lady who is marrying him this month. He's such an animal that he already knocked her up a year ago. Can't blame him for that. As a man, I understand all too well. Unfortunately, their passion for one another has caused them to get careless about child care:

"We haven't done much cooking since the baby,"
she tells us with an implied "Ooops!" It's horrible, but also understandable. When you're distracted by helicopters, snow and your own personal sex maniac, you have trouble telling the difference between, say, a pork roast or a turkey, and a newborn baby. I just hope the kid's doing okay.

So if she gives up this luxury pad, who might be interested in buying it?

"I've sent some letters to the Steelers and the Penguins and the Pirates...I figured this place would be good for someone coming in."
Great idea! As the Minnesota Vikings have shown us, it's best to have your own place for team parties. Safer atop the mountain than in the water.

Commie Bankers

The Tribune-Review's Eric Heyl informs us that a major US banking concern regularly donates loads o' money to high-profile left-wing causes such as ACORN and the Tides Foundation. It seems that Citigroup is run by lefties with a lot of money to throw around.

What? You thought rich bankers couldn't possibly be in tune with the likes of John Kerry and Teresa Heinz? Guess again. Stick that stereotype in your pipe and blow bubbles with it.

Citigroup's press releases end with this informative description of the company's divisions:

Citigroup, the leading global financial services company has some 200 million customer accounts and does business in more than 100 countries, providing consumers, corporations, governments and institutions with a broad range of financial products and services, including consumer banking and credit, corporate and investment banking, securities brokerage, and wealth management. Major brand names under Citigroup's trademark red umbrella include Citibank, CitiFinancial, Primerica, Smith Barney and Banamex. The Citigroup Foundation focuses its grants primarily in three areas: financial education, educating the next generation, and building communities and entrepreneurs. Additional information may be found at www.citigroup.com.
Thank you. Now I know that I should never invest my money in anything bearing those brand names. Citibank constantly sends me credit card solicitations in the mail, but I just keep tearing them up and tossing them out. And I hope they keep sending them to me so that I can discard them, just because of the cost to the company. It's small, but it is something.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Bogus Gold's Friday Fun Quiz

Doug comes up with a goody:

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
You are 'Hark! The Herald Angels Sing'. You take
Christmas very seriously. For you, it is a
religious festival, celebrating the birth of
the Saviour, and its current secularisation
really irritates you. You enjoy the period of
Advent leading up to Christmas, and attend any
local carol services you can find, as well as
the more contemplative Advent church services
each Sunday. You may be involved in Christmas
food collections or similar charity work. The
midnight service at your church, with candles
and carols, is one you look forward to all
year, and you also look forward to the family
get together on Christmas Day.


What Christmas Carol are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Oh yes. I own a CD that includes the original version of this carol, "Vaterland". It wasn't about Christmas. It was a tribute to Gutenberg and his invention of the printing press, seen from a German pride perspective. Pretty rousing when sung by an all-male chorus.

Oh, and the Christmas carol version is great too!

Most of the interpretive paragraph is accurate, though my church doesn't sing Christmas carols until Christmas. Advent is for Advent hymns. Pastor's discretion, you see. It varies from one congregation to the next. I'd rather sing Christmas carols all month long, but I'm not in charge.

I'm also not Catholic, so midnight church is not a part of my plans. Midnight is when the kids ought to be in bed asleep so that they don't get in the way of the annual visit from Santa Claus -- who, apparently, is some sort of Catholic saint.

Curious. When I was a kid, I wrote him letters. Do Catholic kids pray to Santa Claus? (Perhaps not: The Pope un-sainted him in 1969.)

Less clear is Mr. Claus's political affiliation. Sorry, TCS, but I'll stick with P. J. O'Rourke on this one.

Put Down The Shovel And Move Away From The Sidewalk

Last night I decided to surprise my family with pizza for supper. Since the pizza shop is down the hill and around the corner from my house, I decided to walk down and pick it up rather than having it delivered. I figured that it would save the drivers a needless trip up the hill in hazardous conditions. Yesterday was a freezing rain day in Pittsburgh, which terrified a number of people, including my wife.

By 5:30 PM, the rain had turned to snow and some of my neighbors had already gotten out and shoveled their walks. They needn't have bothered, because about fifteen minutes later -- right when I stepped out to go get the pizza -- the snow had turned back into freezing rain again. The snow-covered sidewalks were nice and squishy, but trying to step across the clear pavement was like walking on greased glass. I ended up walking on the edge of the lawn in front of places where the sidewalk was ice.

I learned my lesson. Don't shovel snow when there's freezing rain. You're just making things more dangerous for pedestrians. (End of PSA)

The End of Congress?

An article in this morning's Pittsburgh Moist-Towelette (via the Washington Post) bears the title "Congress targets pimps, johns in anti-prostitution legislation".

Hmmm...can it be?

Is the Parliament of Whores actually voting itself out of existence? That would be interesting.


Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Fast Eddie To The Rescue (Again)

Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell is preparing to do for the Pittsburgh Penguins what he did for the Pork Authority of Allegheny County: Use taxpayer money to lighten the organization's financial burdens and keep things going in Pittsburgh.

HARRISBURG -- Gov. Ed Rendell will consider a request for $90 million in state capital funds to help build a new arena for the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have retained a powerful state Capitol lobbyist in their effort to secure a valuable slots casino license from the state.

Well, we know that using local tax revenue is out, so if you can't force the people in the region where the Penguins' fan base resides to foot the bill, then why not make people in Oil City, Mechanicsburg, Coudersport and Honesdale fork over the loot?

Like the Pork Authority labor agreement, this is nothing more than political fodder to feed Rendell's re-election campaign, and he wants the meal to be over with ASAP. When Election Day 2006 rolls around, voters are going to walk into polling places around the region and say, "This Rendell is okay. He saved my bus ride, and he also saved my Pens. He's got my vote for sure." Because most people from Pittsburgh are braindead Democrats, you see.

I just hope that people from other parts of the state have an equal and opposite reaction to Fast Eddie's slick deals.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

A Festive Display To Assault The Senses

Perhaps you've seen this light show and wondered what it would be like to see such a thing in person.

If you live in or around Pittsburgh, you can always take a trip to the North Hills and feast your eyes on this work of art, which has the same effect only without the music and choreographed light show. I won't deny that I appreciate the beauty of such creativity, but come on....a car? Do you just leave it in the driveway looking like that, or do you drive around so everyone who sees you everywhere you go gets assaulted by the lights?

In Defense of Coors Light

Mike Seate is one of the more entertaining columnists for either Pittsburgh daily, mainly because he could (if he chose) claim the title of "regular guy" with more justification than just about any of his peers. He also earns points for reminding some of us of our younger years, memories of which somehow revolve around what was on television when we were growing up. A couple of weeks ago he referred to a home contractor to Fred Sanford, and today he compares his younger self to Arnold Jackson (Gary Coleman). My life flashes before my eyes.

Unfortunately, Mike's column takes a rather sinister turn: He blames Iron City Beer's financial woes on Coors Light, and takes every opportunity to rail against one of Colorado's finest.

Coors Light is one of the most maligned beers in existence, being held responsible for just about everything from homophobia to destroying an entire planet. You'd think this stuff was brewed on the Death Star, to hear the way that people rail against it.

Mike Seate doesn't get into the politics of the Coors company. He keeps it simple by pointing out that Coors Light is about the most watered down beer on the planet; that its popularity in recent years has forced Pittsburgh Brewing to water down Iron City; and that the loss of beery qualities in IC has caused the local brew to lose favor.

I won't argue about Coors Light being a weak beer. Light beers are supposed to have less of an impact. But I will tell you what: Coors Light was a big part of my life when I was a young and carefree single man. Nothing, and I mean nothing, went as well with wings as Coors Light. I'm talking about the kind of wings that are coated in toxic substances that melt your eyeballs while burning holes in your tongue. These wings were so heavily encrusted with death sauce that one tended to forget that there was meat on the bone. It took gallons of Coors Light for my dining companions and I to recover from the burns. When you're forced to consume mass quantities of beer, you can't go for something heavy like Samuel Adams, even if it is one of the beeriest beers on the market. Coors Light rescued me from being burned alive on more than one occasion just by being so damned watery.

It also did a fine job of clearing out the ol' plumbing. Enough said about that.

Coors Light may not be the refined gentleman's beverage of choice, but it is not, as Mike calls it, "easily the worst beer on the planet". I don't know what is, but then again, I've never tried Iron City Light.

Third Time's A Charm

A few years ago, the Pittsburgh Pirates threatened to leave town if they didn't get a new ballpark. If this city wouldn't build them a new playing field, they would find someplace else that would. The local authorities caved in, using taxpayer money to keep owner Kevin McClatchy rich and happy.

Dan Rooney of the Pittsburgh Steelers soon followed suit. He didn't have much choice, seeing as how the two teams shared use of Three Rivers Stadium. And he got his way. Now, instead of one big white elephant on the north shore of the Allegheny River, there are three. (The one in the middle was imploded four years ago but its spirit remains.)

Of course, there is a third major sports team in Pittsburgh with a different kind of playing facility. The Pittsburgh Penguins have been playing hockey in the Mellon Area (nee Civic Arena) for years. Like the Pirates and Steelers, the Penguins have brought championship trophies to Pittsburgh. And now, the Penguins owner seeks to follow in the footsteps of his baseball and football counterparts.

The big difference between the Pens team owner and the others is that the owner of the Penguins win that championship gold simply by being the greatest player ever to perform in a Penguins uniform. Mario Lemieux saved NHL hockey in Pittsburgh by using the money that he earned as a player to purchase the franchise several years ago. The man who saved the team from mediocrity rebounded to save it from extinction. It was one of the best examples of giving something back in the history of sports.

The fact of the matter is, though, that no matter the extent of sentimental attachment between Mario and Pittsburgh, he is first and foremost a businessman these days. The Mellon Arena is over forty years old and looking less attractive than ever as a long-term home for a major league hockey franchise. What's a local sports legend to do?

Well, he can threaten to pack up the team and leave town if he doesn't get a brand new arena.
Since this is Pittsburgh, there is no shortage of spendthrift Democrat politicians to cave in to his demands, no matter where the money comes from:

Conceding that Pittsburgh is in danger of losing the Penguins, Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato said yesterday he and Pittsburgh Mayor-elect Bob O'Connor are trying to "find a way" to fund a replacement for the Mellon Arena and secure the team's future.

Mr. Onorato said he and Mr. O'Connor are considering a number of financing options, including private investment, state capital funding, naming rights sales and slot machine revenues.

Aside from the "state capital funding", those look like reasonable choices. Just leave the unwilling taxpayers out
of it. We're still smarting from the two stadiums deal of a few years ago. And I admire the fact that you fellows own up to it:

He ruled out using city or county tax dollars for the project, saying neither government is in a position to finance such an endeavor, which could cost up to $300 million.

"What we're saying 'no' to is you're not going to see local money. We don't have the money coming out of the county and the city right now," he said. "The city's still in quasi-bankruptcy; the county's coming off a 500-person downsizing. So there's other ways ... to look at this."

Well, thanks for that. But just watch what happens when they get desperate in a couple of years. Our incomes are not safe from these guys.

Mr. Onorato said there's a "real possibility" the team could leave town if a way isn't found to finance the construction.

"It's something we've got to deal with," he said. "I think it's important to try to keep the Penguins here for the region."

The remarks came in response to statements last weekend by Penguins owner Mario Lemieux, who said there was only a "slim chance" the team would remain in Pittsburgh after its lease at Mellon Arena expires in 2007. He cited a lack of progress in building a new facility.

Scare tactics, or a serious threat? It all comes down to the money. If the Mellon Arena is too expensive to maintain and repair, Mario needs to look for another facility. It makes no sense for him to keep the team in a run-down shack of a domed hut.

Also note Onorato's phrase "keep the Penguins here for the region". Why does a new facility need to be built in Pittsburgh, or even Allegheny County? Five years ago, a Washington County (PA) commisioner suggested that the Steelers could have constructed a new stadium in her neck of the woods. The Rooneys never took it seriously, but why not suggest something similar for the Pens? There are plenty of places in southwestern Pennsylvania with room for a sports complex. Taxes are lower than in Allegheny, too. If Mario wants to keep the team local, he should not limit his vision to the city of Pittsburgh.

You can take the Penguins out of Pittsburgh and still keep Pittsburgh in the Penguins. Think about it if you don't want them to leave the city, the state, or even the country.

Making The Grinch Look Good

Using Dr. Suess's "Grinch" character as a metaphor for anything that puts a downer on Christmas has finally gotten old and tired. It was nice a few years ago as an alternative to "Scrooge", but the novelty has worn off.

I blame columnist Reg Henry of the Pittsburgh Moist-Towelette. In his latest lame attempt at humor, Reg jumps the shark in sentence number three:

A timely e-mail from Missouri has arrived to ease my seasonal concerns. It seems that the poinsettia, that joyful plant much favored in Christmas decorations, is not poisonous after all -- although half of all Americans are said to believe it is. Perhaps they were the same half who last year thought John Kerry was poisonous.
Are you an editorial columnist, or a humorist? Heavens, man, make up your mind. Does the mention of John Kerry serve as a segue into an abrupt change of topic about politics and weightier current events? We will, sad to say, have to read on for more. (Incidentally, I never though John Kerry was poisonous. I was, however, afraid that he might peck me to death with his beak if I ever met him in person.)

The latter viewpoint was somewhat understandable, given that a politician so lacking in the common touch might be thought hazardous to simple folk. But surely the American people in their customary vegetative state should be able to see the poinsettia for what it is -- a colorful but nonthreatening plant that has had its good reputation cruelly Swift-boated.
Yep, a casual swipe at the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth. Men who were in Vietnam with Kerry, who heard and saw what he did, came out with their stories in order to inform the American electorate what sort of character wanted to be elected President in wartime, only to be excoriated by the left and the media for their willingness to step forth and tell the truth. And Reg Henry essentially compares them to people who spread misinformation about vegetation.

So where does the Kerry/Swift Boat theme go? Nowhere. Dead in the water, you might say. But don't worry; Reg isn't done yet. We have to wait about five paragraphs before he vomits up another talking point, this one relating to the "truth" about the location of Santa's workshop:

The truth, of course, is that all toy making has been moved offshore and the orders are routed through call centers in Bangalore. The operation is overseen by Halliburton Festive Industries Inc., which got the no-bid contract.
One suspects that Mr. Henry's contract contains a clause that requires him to take a shot at the Bush administration at least once per column, no matter how irrelevant. I think he missed doing so last week, so he has to make up for the omission this time around.

The rest of the column attempts to poke a few more barbs at the President by defending maltreatment of GWB's ears (I won't even try to explain). I kept reading this drivel all the way to the end of the page where it says "All Rights Reserved". What was the point of it all?

Yes, I am trying very hard to ignore his conclusion that those with whom he disagrees should be fed poisoned plants for Christmas. So don't bring it up again.

Baby Smooth

(Thank you Doug "Fridley" Williams for answering my cry for help. My experience with nose hair trimming is nil, so I will fall back on good old razorblogging for this post.)

I have had the most horrid experience with shaving in my life, which is why I have worn a beard more often than not since my early twenties. During my teen years, I learned that I have pretty sensitive skin (as in eczema) and couldn't handle shaving creams or after shaves, especially in conjuction with the loss of several layers of skin on my face. I switched to electric. No creams, no stinky abrasive lotions. Just dry flakes ripped from my face.

Even electric razors weren't particularly kind to me. After trying some different styles of facial hair (Grizzly Adams beard, Kaiser Wilhelm mustache, etc.) I finally settled on a goatee. It was my best look, and stuck around for a few years, aside from some colder winters when extra face fur seemed a necessity. All the while, I used an electric razor to trim the beard down to goatee proportions. My skin problems were gone; I was careful about how I shaved and the eczema hasn't flared up in years.

Perhaps my proudest beard moment came back in 1997 when a group of mustachioed men from Jordan looked at my beard and nodded in agreement as one of them proclaimed that "he looks like one of those Arab sheikhs!" I call that a ringing endorsement.

About five years ago, after starting a new job, I once again stopped wearing a goatee. I no longer had the time to fuss over my face, as I had traded in my fifteen minute drive to work for a half-hour bus ride. It also helped that my boss and the third man on our team also had full beards, so I wasn't the odd man out by any stretch. I hung on to my old electric razor solely for the beard trimmer attachment. The beard was good. I liked the beard.

Except for one thing. A few months after I started the new job, the hair on my chinny-chin chin started to turn white. I have seen this before on bearded men. The hair begins turning white on the chin before the hair on the head. It looked bad, especially in winter when I would go all Grizzly Adams over and over again. In short, the hair on my face no longer matched the hair on the top of my head. Some mornings I would look in the mirror and wonder whether I hadn't passed out face-first in a puddle of correction fluid. The beard needed to go.

The electric razor was no longer an option. It would no longer recharge, it was having problems when I tried using it plugged into the wall, and the foil screen was starting to come apart. I didn't want to spend money on another electric, so I did what any man would do in that situation: I borrowed one of my wife's Bic sensitive skin shavers. They are non-gender specific, so I had no qualms about anyone walking in and recoiling in horror at the site of my using something like a Lady Bic. That worked for a while, but I didn't want to use up my wife's stash. Having largely ignored the phenomenon of razorblogging earlier this year, I decided to go back and see what all of the fuss was about.

Battery operated shavers. Good grief.

That is overkill. I hope that I never feel the need to use a non-electric razor that requires popping in a battery to liven up the shave. I don't want that. I just want an ordinary non-powered blade (or set of blades) that will give me a decent shave. And of course, I found it.

It's the Gillette Mach3. Wet shaving was never like this back in 1988! On the first shave, I was amazed at how smooth my skin felt. I hadn't felt anything so soft and smooth since the last time I changed a diaper on a newborn baby. Heaven, it was! I still kept the mustache, as anyone who remembers me from Keegan's that night in August can attest. But the shave was so close that the skin felt like it had never grown hair. And the razor head was so delicate that there were no abrasions on my face, either. (To be honest, I'm using sensitive skin shaving cream too.)

I also picked up a packet of *ahem* "septic pens" while I was at it. Haven't needed them, really.

Thanks again, Doug. My writer's block is gone. But I will take that nostril hair thing under advisement.

Monday, December 12, 2005

What's News?

Sorry about the lack of posting over the past few days -- the news has gotten rather boring lately. From my perspective, anyway. Got any suggestions as to what I should blog about?

I welcome feedback from my readers, all four or five of you.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Political Ballgame

The 2006 race for US Senate from Pennsylvania is really heating up. Leftist Democrats are campaigning heavily in southwestern Pennsylvania, as indicated by a Tribune-Review has an article about the Reds sending Casey to Pittsburgh. According to the paper, Casey has a career batting average of .305 and...

Wait, I'm sorry. I thought this was about Bob Casey, Jr. It's something to do with baseball.

Never mind.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Another One Rides the Bus

As if the Pork Authority didn't have enough problems, a Tribune-Review columnist has started riding the bus to work:

I recently began commuting the 15 miles or so to the office on the 16A-Ohio River Boulevard bus, which has proven a quick, convenient and cheap way to town. For some reason, though, the 15-minute ride smells curiously like it's being conducted inside an NFL locker-room laundry hamper. In Miami.
Ain't it the truth? If ever a column was worthy of a RTWT, this is it.

Holiday Vanities

Well, the Christmas cards started rolling in this week. I almost feel bad, since I haven't sent a traditional Christmas card to anyone since 2001. Blame the Internet. And my kids. Oh hell, just go ahead and blame me. I'm the one who refuses to pay exorbitant US Postal Service rates for old fashioned mail. Sending cards and letters used to be a joy. Now, it's "Don't expect me to buy cards and stamps for three dozen people we barely know if you want me to get you a present this year".

A personal letter sent via email doesn't take up so much space in the house, either. If I'm going to send someone a card, it should be the kind of card that I would appreciate getting. A whole lot of razzle dazzle is what I mean.

For instance, take this card that I received today. The sender is someone whom I got to know in college, and he's one of the nicest and smartest guys I've ever met. He never stops halfway, which is what makes his cards worthwhile. Last year's card was send from England. This year's card comes from right here in the USA, as indicated by the US postage stamp with a picture of...

...HIMSELF. No, not Baby Jesus. Or Santa Claus, either. I mean HIMSELF. The guy who sent the card. On the postage stamp is a picture of the fellow who sent me the card. He is wearing antlers and grinning about it.

Holy cow! I mean, holy reindeer! Who ever came up with this idea? Something called Zazzle.com, apparently. I doubt that I would ever do something like this myself, but it's fun to see others humiliate themselves that way. And it's cute if you do it with a baby's picture, but I wouldn't want my kids to get run through the post office like so many excessively high home heating bills. This particular image on that particular postage is the front runner for Christmas card of the year in my house, I'll tell you right now. It is.

A guy I know! Wearing reindeer antlers! On a real live postage stamp! Well, at least he wasn't wearing a red nose. A fake one, anyway.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

A Good Clean Place To Sleep

This is very good news:

Westin Hotels & Resorts announced yesterday that, as of January, it will become the first hotel chain to introduce a chain-wide smoke-free policy. The change will apply to the company's 77 hotels in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean, including the Westin Convention Center, Downtown.

In preparation for the new policy, 2,400 smoking rooms will undergo an extensive cleaning and all Westin hotels and resorts will designate an outdoor area for guests who smoke. More than 90 percent of Westin guests request a nonsmoking room when traveling and do not smoke in any part of the hotel, including public areas, the company said.

I like it. There have been times when I have sought lodging and requested a non-smoking room only to find that all of the non-smoking rooms were taken. I had to sleep in a smoking room, which was nasty, because the room stunk to high heaven, as if the previous, smoking guest had never left. That extensive cleaning is going to be an expensive cleaning. The ratio of smoking rooms to non-smoking always did seem a little high; now it won't be a problem in at least one chain of hotels. Now, if only I could afford to stay in a Westin property.

Hey, it looks like I'm not the only one with the above concerns, according to the GM of the local Westin:

"One of the largest complaints we get is when all the nonsmoking rooms are filled," said Mr. Kane, who predicted the change will boost business for the chain.

"We think the preference of the traveling public is to have a fresh-smelling room," he said. "Even smokers sometimes request a nonsmoking room."

Okay. Quiz time: Was the Westin's decision to eliminate smoking in rooms (A) the result of coercion by a government entity; or (B) a company policy change based on customer feedback?

The answer, of course, is (B). I like being able to go places without having to put up with oppressive smoke, but I don't want government involved in it. Given the choice between patronizing a smoke-free establishment and one that permits smoking on the premises, I prefer the former to the latter. The Westin GM understands this:

The smoking ban also will apply to two in-house restaurants at the Westin Convention Center, but not necessarily The Original Fish Market, which leases space from the hotel. "It's their decision," said Mr. Kane.
Now if only customer feedback at other businesses could convince everyone else to follow suit.

Flip-Flop

Interesting twist in two news stories this morning: a motivational speaker is being held under kiddie pr0n charges, and a Catholic priest is under investigation for ripping off people's money.

Usually, it's the other way around. Of course, it would be nice if none of this stuff ever happened in the first place.

Santorum, Casey, and the Religion Issue

This morning's Tribune-Review has an insightful article that looks at the role that religion may play in next year's U.S. Senate race in Pennsylvania between incumbent Republican Rick Santorum and Democrat challenger Bob Casey, Jr. On the surface, there is not much of a contrast. Both candidates are adherents of the Roman Catholic faith, and the Trib's comparison of their respective positions "on key issues with religious connotations" reveals very little that distinguishes one from the other. No matter. A race for federal office should focus on key issues with constitutional implications. This is more important to Republicans than it is to Democrats, and is going to be the biggest problem that Santorum will have with his base in this campaign. Just look at the comments section in just about any Santorum-related post at Grassroots PA to see what some Pennsylvania conservatives have to say about the Senator.

Now let's see what we can glean from this article:

Santorum, 47, a Penn Hills Republican, has long championed faith-related initiatives in his rise to national prominence. But Democrats point to Casey, 45, of Scranton, as the party's poster boy for a new faith in some of that old-time religion.
Casey is two years younger? He looks old enough to be Rick's, uh, "older cousin", as Mr. Kotter would say. If this race turns into a beauty contest, Bob Casey is in serious trouble.
In July, Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid, D-Nev., launched a new Web site aimed at religious voters, titled "A Word to the Faithful." One picture shows Reid and others, apparently in a Senate office, with their heads bowed in prayer.
Hah. Senator from the Planet Brothel. Were they praying, or preying?

In November, Democrat Timothy M. Kaine won the Virginia governor's office by talking on evangelical Christian radio about faith in politics, running television ads that highlighted his Christian missionary work in Honduras, and handing out red, white and blue "Catholics for Kaine" bumper stickers.
This is a switch. Democrats usually unite evangelicals and Catholics against them. I worry anytime religious types vote left. It usually means that they've thrown the Constitution out the window and decided that the US Treasury is the world's greatest charity.

Santorum said he's comfortable talking about his faith, although he doesn't anticipate religion becoming part of the campaign.

"I'm not running for bishop. I'm running for the U.S. Senate," he said.

I certainly hope it stays that way. If this race turns into a contest to see which guy is more Catholic than the other, I'm voting third party.

In the Spirit of John Belushi

You don't read many stories like this anymore. Some guy attacked his girlfriend and her brother with his samurai sword. He's been watching too many old (as in original cast) episodes of Saturday Night Live, apparently.

He even tried to take the lady's brother out Belushi-style when he

attempted an "overhead chop," and the sword got stuck in the ceiling
which gave her the chance to do something that many people in this country would like to deprive her of the right to do: She pulled her gun on him. And fired it. And got the hell out of that house.

That's the best part about this story. The lady used her firearm, which she has an uninfringable constitutional right to do, to prevent one and possibly two murders. Good for her!

The worst part about this story? These people are all fifty-one years old! That means that they were already legal adults when SNL debuted. Don't you think the swordsman might have gotten over it by now? Yeesh.

Big Blog Day

Today I'm home to meet the gas meter reader (assuming he/she ever shows up), run some laundry, and maybe some cleaning up if I get around to it. Oh yeah, and watching the baby and the sick boy. So look for a flurry of posts in the next hour or two.

I have a week's worth of blogging to catch up with.

Before I get out the electronic newspapers and see what's worth commenting on, I have to say, after nearly thirty years, The Muppet Show holds up well. Last night the family sat down to watch the first season DVD set and I was really taken back. The guests were great, the Muppets were hilarious, and there was little about the show that said "1970s". I was also surprised at all of the Muppet lust. No wonder so many in my generation grew up deranged and debauched. Bert, from Sesame Street, showed up for a dance number just so he could drool all over Connie Stevens. Rita Moreno was surprised by Animal (or a similar Muppet), who has a naked shoulder chewing fetish. She also danced erotically and violently with a life-sized French muppet in a saloon. And on and on it went. A lot of us grew up early because of that show.

Strangest of all was one female Muppet that I do not recall seeing when I was a child. She was unlike the other Muppets, in that she was almost made to look like an actual human being, right on down to the presence of fully-formed breasts under her pink turtleneck. This was quite disturbing. One may well wonder whether the guys in Henson's workshop were sad lonely single men.

Enough of that. On with the blogging!

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Oh Crap (A Post In Two Parts)

Hi, it's me again. I still haven't had much to say lately, partly because I haven't felt very productive (writer's block, I suppose), and partly because I've been trying to add a few more blogs (and new sources) to my linkage section. By the time I'm done reading the latest posts at all of these interesting blogs, I run out of time to post on my own. Perhaps I should ignore what everyone else is saying and just do my own thing. Now to get down to the meat of this post:

Oh Crap #1: A few weeks ago, I discovered a well-written blog by a prolific young fellow living here in Pittsburgh. It seemed as though he posted close to a dozen times everyday, and everything he wrote was worth reading. Naturally I wanted to add his site to my blogroll. And of course, just when I go to make that addition, he sells his services to a higher power (so to speak). Our loss is his employer's gain.

Oh Crap #2: My godfather died yesterday. I've never been the sort of person who cries or otherwise gets emotional at funerals; even when my own parents died, my concerns were more about the future than the past, or even the present. In each case, the deceased had been ill for some time and therefore the loss was not a shock. No one close to me has died suddenly and unexpectedly, which is a blessing, I suppose. A funeral should be as much an opportunity to celebrate a person's life as to mourn their death, perhaps more so. Uncle lived a good life; he was a devout and responsible man; a veteran and a hard working man; a loyal husband, father, grandfather etc. Much the same could be said about hundreds of men who die each day. The difference with this man is that I am honored to have known him, and am very proud to call him my godfather.

Funeral home visitation should commence tomorrow. Once more, I will have the opportunity to catch up with relatives whom I only get to see whenever someone dies. Most family get-togethers seem to be that way. Funny, isn't it? And then there are those people who never show up for any family events, even when the courtesy of an invitation is extended. It makes me wonder who will show up at my funeral when the time comes.

Of course, I won't ever have to worry about learning the answer to that, will I?

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Yes, I'm Still Here

Sorry if you've been looking here for something new since Monday, but I haven't really felt very bloggy this week. I have gotten around to categorizing my links over to the left hand side of this page. I have no preferences as far as order goes, so at some point I will alphabetize each section. Maybe even going from Z to A.

Hey, Hugh Hewitt misspelled Pittsburgh again! Did he do that on purpose because he's from around Cleveland, or did he do it by accident because he's from around Cleveland? If you know what I mean.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Symptom of Insanity

Samantha Burns posted about it earlier today.

Back in August, Pittsburgh-area blogger Anthony of Tunesmith & Anthony started a comment war with a single sentence about it.

By amazing coincidence, Anthony posted his comment just a little over a week after I -- and dozens of other motorists -- nearly collided with a mad unicyclist on I-94 in Saint Paul, somewhere between Downtown and Midway, just around rush hour.

What's that you say? Someone rode a unicycle on a busy urban interstate highway? What, were they suicidal?

Let me clarify: This person was driving a van with a trailer attached. There were two ways to tell that this person was a unicyclist:

  1. They drove their vehicle in the same wavy, quirky manner that someone does while riding a unicycle.
  2. There was a tell-tale logo on every side of the trailer.
Seriously, that trailer was swinging around like a baseball bat on wheels. It didn't help that the driver kept pulling his/her consist (that's train talk, folks) in front of faster drivers and then slowing down. I damn near missed my exit because of that thing.

If you ever see a highway-ridin' car, van, truck or trailer that looks like it's being driven by someone used to riding a unicycle, chances are that it is being driven by a unicyclist.

This Is MY Side of the Street, Sister!

If it wasn't for James Lileks, I wouldn't know what Bratz dolls are. He calls them "hooker-in-training dolls". I can't think of a more apt description for the plastic creepies.

And if it wasn't for James Lileks, I also wouldn't know that Mattel is churning out a line of Barbie dolls all hookered up like Bratz dolls. They do look a lot alike. So much so, in fact, that MGA Entertainment, the maker of Bratz, is going to court with Mattel over the matter.

Let's take a look at the take of contemporary journalism on this story. Rather than showing side-by-side photos of the two dolls in order that readers may make their own comparisons, the article from the Moist-Towelette's online edition (and presumably the print edition also) includes a photograph of a Bratz and a Bling-Bling Barbie fighting on the ground. Bratz appears to be winning, probably on account of the fact that she has a bigger, thicker head that can incapacitate a Barbie with a single headbutt. It looks like Bratz is upset because Barbie tried to muscle in on her territory.

My little girls love their Barbies, but there is no way that I am willingly going to allow them to find out about the existence of either hooker doll. I love them being little, but the sooner they grow out of the Barbie doll phase, the better.

The Case of the Exploding Briefcase

An abandoned briefcase was found and detonated by the authorities in nearby Mount Lebanon Township yesterday. From the Trib:

Mt. Lebanon police evacuated businesses and detoured traffic around a three-block area of Washington Road for four hours Sunday after a briefcase was left outside a restaurant in the heart of the business district.

The Allegheny County Police Bomb Squad detonated the briefcase with a loud bang at 12:10 p.m. The briefcase contained only electronic equipment, police said.

Things like this usually just turn out to be nothing more than personal property dropped by an innocent absent-minded person. There's probably some guy who spent all afternoon frantically searching for his missing briefcase, couldn't figure out where he left it, and then heard about this. If I were him, I'd be pissed.

Of course, you can't be too careful these days. Mount Lebanon is an affluent, mostly Republican community, and therefore a prime target for terrorists...or those who sympathize with them.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

The Allegheny County Coroner's Office Goes To The Morgue

There's a nice article in the Sunday PG about the soon-to-be obsolete office of Coroner of Allegheny County. Voters chose overwhelmingly to eliminate most county row offices several months ago, and Dr. Cyril Wecht's post is one of the first to go, as each row officer must step down at the expiration of the current term. He would have been up for reelection this year had the measure been defeated at the ballot.

In all likelihood, Dr. Wecht will be appointed to the new position of county medical examiner. No one is better suited for the job than Cyril Wecht. Appointment will be made by County Executive Dan Onorato, a Democrat, and although there's not much difference between being elected by constituents of the local Democratic machine and being appointed by the head of the local Democratic machine, Cyril Wecht has never allowed politics to infect his responsibilities as Coroner. In fact, his biggest political enemies have always been fellow Democrats. We'll see about getting a Republican in there after Cyril retires...and after we elect a Republican County Executive.

The article has more on the office of Coroner, including some fascinating historical information about the history of the Coroner's office going back to Richard the Lionhearted.

Best Wishes For Congressman Murphy

My local Congressman, Dr. Tim Murphy, has been injured in Iraq:

A military vehicle carrying U.S. politicians overturned on the way to the Baghdad airport yesterday and injured two members of Congress, including Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair.

Mr. Murphy was airlifted to a military hospital in Germany for an MRI on his neck, said Rep. Jim Marshall, who was also in the vehicle. Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., was sent to a Baghdad hospital, Mr. Marshall told the Macon Telegraph.

Mr. Marshall, a Georgia Democrat, said he was not hurt.

From what I have heard about the highways running in and out of Baghdad, no one wastes any time getting to where they are going. It's so dangerous that terrorists don't need to bother setting up traps.

These Congressmen were visiting troops in Baghdad on the way back from Thanksgiving in Afghanistan. Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

If This Is A Consular Ship, Where Is The Ambassador?

Hey, I got your Western PA Embassy right here. Doug Williams of Bogus Gold, recently elected Mayor of the MOB (Minnesota Organization of Blogs), has named his first cabinet positions. My weeklong jaunt to the Twin Cities back in August has paid off: I am the first-ever Official Ambassador to the MOB for all of Western Pennsylvania. It's one thing to link to Our Friends In the Old Northwest Territories. But it means even more to actually drop by the MOB's favorite watering hole and consume adult beverages in the presence of some of the most talented and prolific bloggers on the Internet.

Now I need to figure out how I can stay in Doug's good graces, lest he go shopping around for a new regional representative. Doug likes to drink wine. He obviously drinks a lot of wine. Lots and lots of wine. I'd better become an avid wine enthusiast in a big hurry in order to maintain good relations with the Lord Mayor.

Beyond that, this blog has been handed an honorific of sorts by the MOB election judge(s). A quick glance of the Kool Aid Report's "A Rainbow of Flavaz" sidebar reveals the presence of something called The Iron Maiden Report...which links right back here. So, in addition to becoming a wino, I need to post more often about Nicko & Co.

Up the Irons!

Intoxicated

If there isn't already mandatory drug testing at the Pittsburgh Moist-Towelette, there ought to be. Case in point: This piece of rhyming dementia posing as some kind of editorial.

Anyone who composes a poem containing the words "I'm thankful for the Democrats" must be on some kind of heavy drugs.

Myth and Legend On the Silver Screen

Back in 1981 I went to see Clash of the Titans at the local (now defunct) movie theater. I had been a Greek Mythology enthusiast since the third grade, so I was excited at the prospect of seeing the familiar characters from familiar tales on big screen settings. The movie was a little disappointing: Medusa was too scaly; the big ugly horned guy wasn't in any of the stories I had read; Perseus rides Pegasus, who in the myth wasn't created until Medusa was dead; and worst of all, the mechanical owl that served Perseus in much the same way that K-9 served Doctor Who or that R2-D2 served the Skywalker family. It was an awakening of sorts, for me. Clash of the Titans made me aware of the concept of "artistic license".

Last evening my wife popped in a tape of the movie, which was a pleasant surprise. Despite the traumatizing changes, the movie wasn't bad. As long as I don't go into a movie expecting to see THE GREATEST MOTION PICTURE OF ALL TIME, I don't come out disappointed. Heroes battled monsters, and the Gods of Olympus had a hand in it all. That pretty much sums up the more thrilling Greeks myths: Perseus, Heracles, Theseus, Odysseus. The movie was fun and aided the leftover turkey in putting me to sleep early.

After a four hour nap, I woke up and decided to pop in another movie. Ah good -- my wife borrowed Troy from the local library. That'll kill three hours easy.

In all honesty, I enjoyed this movie much more than I thought I would. The Homeric legend was completely stripped of its mythic elements. No Gods appeared as spectators or as participants. Religion, however, was ever-present; the characters made frequent references to Gods, and temples figured prominently in two scenes. Troy is basically a war movie and earns its R rating mostly for bloodshed. There are a couple of naked butts on screen (just as there were in Clash of the Titans) but nothing raunchy. Most of the performances are dead-on. I didn't think of King Priam as Peter O'Toole; I thought of him as King Priam. The same goes for most of the Greek leaders: Menelaus, Agamemnon, Ajax. It was like being there. Achilles, the main character, was another matter. "That's Brad Pitt", I told myself at the start. Every time I saw him, I reiterated: "That's Brad Pitt. He was with JA, but now he's with AJ." His celebrity overshadows his performances, and that's not good.

Eric Bana was surprisingly good as Hector. Bana's performance as Bruce Banner in HULK lacked personality. I really had trouble telling the difference between man and monster in that film, but he makes up for it here. Bana's Hector, a loyal husband, father, son, brother and Trojan, has cares and concerns that all of us can relate to. I seriously need to reevaluate my estimation of him as an actor.

Orlando Bloom...okay, here's another one I have a problem with. He will always be Legolas. Never mind the fact that he doesn't really have long straight blond hair and pointy ears; his role in Lord of the Rings has marked him for life. Not even his role as Will Turner in Pirates of the Caribbean and its two forthcoming sequels can erase that image. Nevertheless, he does a passable job portraying Paris, since I always envisioned Paris as a sort of soft boyish twit and that is exactly how Orlando Bloom plays him because he is, after all, Orlando Bloom. He must be the first actor that casting directors go to when they need to find someone who can play a soft, boyish, almost effeminate character who appeals to girls. Not women, but girls.

Speaking of women, girls, and casting for this movie, it couldn't have been hard to cast Helen of Troy. Anyone familiar with the Greek legend knows that Helen is simply eye candy. Diane Kruger fills that requirement quite well, yet manages to inject the character with a hint of personality. Helen's attraction to Paris makes little sense, though. Maybe she's a pedophile, and she's going to drop him the moment hair starts to grow out of his face.

One character who mostly hangs around in the background is Odysseus, played well by Sean Bean. He wields influence at the highest levels, yet knows his place and doesn't try to steal the glory from Agamemnon. Ironic, then, when Odysseus's wooden horse leads to the sack of Troy, during which Paris kills Agamemnon. And Achilles.

Wait. That didn't sound right. Agamemnon survived Troy long enough to go home and be killed by his wife. Paris mortally wounded Achilles in the heel before the wooden horse entered the city. And Menelaus collected Helen and took her back to Sparta; he wasn't killed by Hector. Forget what I said about artistic license; this isn't right.

The movie tries very hard to make Paris its hero. I could not accept that. The longer it went on, the more I hated Paris and wanted to see him die. As long as you're going to rewrite the classic story, why not let Odysseus kill Paris and abscond with Helen? My verdict: Decent movie, unsatisfying ending.

Post-Thanksgiving Recovery Report

My apologies to the 3-4 regular readers of this blog who might have been checking for something new the last couple of days. Something came Thanksgiving came along, and it involved spending half of a day cooking a turkey, stuffing, carrots, corn on the cob, mashed potatoes, applesauce and cranberry sauce. There was some kind of parade on television, and cold white stuff all over my front yard. It was a strange experience.

For the first time in over ten years, we cooked Thanksgiving dinner at home. The in-laws moved out to the left coast, and no one else was going to invite us over for the holiday. For once, we got to stay in the house and have our own celebration for a change. I liked it. I want to do it again.

Except for the metabolism part, that is. I had exactly ONE serving of all the above foodstuffs except for applesauce. There was pumpkin pie and apple pie for dessert. We finally ate some pies one day later, when my stomach was more relaxed. Gone, I'm afraid, are the days when I could pile additional helpings on my plate and clear the whole thing off. I'm eating less and gaining more. Sometimes it stinks to get old.

Next task: Starvation! Use the money I save buying less food in order to be able to afford more Christmas presents! It'll cut down on the weight gain.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

How Much Is That Panther On the Carousel?

One of the more interesting means of funding that has come along in recent years is naming rights. Most sports arenas and stadiums in America now bear the names of corporate sponsors. Most collegiate football bowl games have commercial monikers. Earlier this month, a local politician even suggested selling the naming rights to Pittsburgh International Airport.

Renaming the airport after a corporate sponsor is a bit much, but as tacky as the practice can be, it is not a bad way to gain sorely needed money for construction and maintenance of edifices that would otherwise rely solely on income taken from taxpayers.

For anyone who is interested and has the money to toss around, the animals on the carousel (currently under construction) at the new park in Schenley Plaza in Pittsburgh's Oakland neighborhood are available for $20,000 each. When I first heard about the project a few months ago, I was worried about the waste of public money going into it.
The park might turn out to be a nice place for folks to visit, but wiping out the prime parking lot in Oakland, right across from the Cathedral of Learning, was a questionable move.

But with donors lining up to pay $20,000 for a single carousel animal, who cares? Better that people be frivolously wasteful with their own money than taxpayers' money.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

I Know I Am

"If you're too huggy-kissy with them, a male who has not been castrated can turn on you."

Keeping the Home Fires Burning

Yesterday I said something about my son possibly dressing up as Satan and burning down the house. That might be the most economical way to keep warm this winter.

I've already decided to keep the thermostat down to 65 degrees. The storm windows are all shut. I am also keeping the hot water heater turned down about 20 degrees lower than usual. My showers are almost cold, but at least I'm using less gas. We are also planning to do what we've been talking about for ten years but have never gotten around to before: covering the windows with plastic sheets for added insulation.

Many others are in the same boat
:

Christy David, of Dormont, pays her heating bills through Dominion's budget plan, which adjusts payments to keep them level throughout the year. When her budget amount was adjusted this fall from $170 to $386, she thought it was a misprint.
My gas company (which is not Dominion) has done the same thing. I have been on the budget payment plan for years, and my monthly bill just shot up to nearly that amount.

I am not going to complain. Much. Not when there is something that I can do to help myself:

Lowering the temperature certainly has its downside in cold fingers and whining teenagers. But there are some who can see virtue through their chattering teeth and shivering toes: energy conservation.
Conservation? Saving money and resources instead of spending them? There's a novel concept. This looks like as good a time as any to teach my children a lesson that's been coming a good long time. And they will understand why Daddy has a fit when the thermostat mysteriously has been set to 54 degrees in Winter and 90 degrees in Summer.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Pumpkin Juice and A Wandering Eye

Last night I took the family to see Peter Parker and the Goblin of Fire.

Whoops! Scratch that. I mean, we went to see Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Number four in the series. I liked it. It was entertaining, and the characters are developing well from film to film. Good thing, too, considering that the actors are as well. Plus, it was Very British. I like Very British entertainment, particularly the humour (or humor, if you prefer). I'm always looking out for a Harry Potter movie appearance by someone I've seen in BBC shows -- like Miranda Richardson, who was in Blackadder, for instance -- as well as actors whom I don't know but should.

Villanous Barty Crouch, Jr., for instance, is the new Doctor Who. I've not seen any of the new Doctor Who series but I look forward to it on DVD.

So I enjoyed the movie. Most of my family enjoyed the movie -- except the ten year old daughter. She has read all of the books. She is intimately familiar with every last detail of the Goblet of Fire novel. On the way home, she literally screamed out a litany of everything wrong with the movie. Every single complaint concerned an omission. The house elves. The super heavy tongue. And so on. I ought to read the books one of these days so I can find out what I am missing. And perhaps I would share the outrage. But that might spoil my enjoyment of the films. Do I dare risk that?

In a few years, she will understand the changes that the HP characters are going through. This movie could alternately have been titled "Hormone Potter". Boys have to dance with girls! Boys have to find girls who will actually want to dance with them! Weird redhaired kid gets kissed by ooh-la-la French girls! A cute girl across the room makes Harry slobber pumpkin juice! Even Hagrid gets a chick, and she is literally someone that he can look up to. And the language! A couple of years ago we had to get a six year old boy to stop saying "Bloody Hell!" like Ron Weasley. Now we have to be careful to not let him say "Piss off", as Ron told Harry.

Ron comes off like a jerk during the middle third of the film. He was too busy hating Harry to love Hermione. But they all make it up at the end.

The end was tragic, and hopeful. I won't spoil it if you've not seen it, but yeah, Voldemort was back. He's a very inspiring character. How so? Well, he inspired my six year old son to change into a black dark-lord style robe when we got home. It was time for a change; the boy was tired of being Darth Sidious. One of these days, he's going to decide to be Satan and set fire to the entire house.

Good film, and I can't wait for the next one.

250 Years of Urban Growth and Urban Decay

As an amateur historian and genealogist, I geek out about this sort of thing. Yes -- Pittsburgh (pronounced "Pitts-borough") is turning 250 years old in 2008. It's never too big to plan for a year-long birthday bash, so the powers that be have already started figuring on a total price tag of $9.9 million dollars for the celebration.

The city deserves it, really. There is a lot of history here. Lots and lots of history. And also...history. From the French and Indian War to the Salk polio vaccine, Pittsburgh has been the site of many memorable events.

But what about the present...and the future?

Former local economic development official Tim Parks wonders if the new Pittsburgh 250 campaign may look back too much.

"My concern is we are ... defining Pittsburgh by what it once was or how Pittsburgh used to be rather than what we are today and where we are going," said Mr. Parks, former president of the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, a group formed in the mid-1990s to change Pittsburgh's image

Bingo! Pittsburgh has been in a steady state of decline for the last 30-40 years, if you strictly define "Pittsburgh" as a political entity within city limits. There has been growth in the area, but most of it has been outside of the city and quite often outside of Allegheny County. People who aren't from around here think of it all as "Pittsburgh", but those of us who do live here know better. You have to admire what someone like Tim Parks has been trying to do for the region, but these group efforts usually fizzle out (as the PG article tells us).

Does Pittsburgh have a decent future? We shall see. For now, let's get ready for the big 250. It's not just any excuse for a party -- it's a good excuse for a party.